Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen and the Michigan men’s gymnastics team owe a lot to New Jersey.
For the final day of competition this weekend at the Winter Cup in Las Vegas, three Jersey boys – senior co-captain Andrew Elkind, sophomore Joe Catrambone and sophomore Ralph Rosso – represented No. 1 Michigan. And against the country’s best gymnasts, including former and current national team members, they held their own.
From the amount of noise those Wolverines were making, it seemed as if the entire team made it to the finals.
But there were just three athletes donning the Maize and Blue on the competitive floor. Four more – senior co-captain Justin Laury, sophomore Kent Caldwell, freshman Mel Santander and alum Eddie Umphrey – cheered from the stands.
The three New Jersey natives shone in the qualifying competition on Thursday night, with Rosso placing sixth overall on rings and Catrambone seventh on high bar. Elkind finished in the top 12 in all four of his events. Of 84 gymnasts, just half qualified to Saturday night’s finals.
“It was kind of funny how things worked out,” Elkind said. “(Michigan coach) Kurt (Golder) even walked up to us when we were stretching and said, ‘Oh, we’ve got the Jersey crew tonight.’ . It’s a little bit more of a comfortable feeling because we’ve been competing together on the team and in club gymnastics for so long.”
The Winter Cup is the only meet of the season where the Wolverines compete solely on an individual basis, as well as the only one in which they are scored using the new code instituted last year.
Seven competitors from the meet were chosen for the U. S. Senior National Team – the top three all-around gymnasts and four others chosen by the Men’s Program Committee. Three of the final four spots have been decided, with the fourth to be announced on Tuesday. Overall standings included both Thursday and Saturday night’s scores.
Though it appears that no Michigan gymnasts will make the national team, the weekend was still a success.
Despite struggling early on the high bar and pommel horse, Elkind pulled it together in his final event, parallel bars, where he finished ninth. He placed in the top 20 in all four of his events.
Catrambone and Rosso posted the highest Wolverine finishes of the night, placing fifth on the high bar and rings, respectively. Catrambone also tied for 14th on the still rings.
“We didn’t go mistake-free, but . I thought it was pretty good,” Golder said. “They competed with the best in the country and I think they showed themselves that they can compete with them. It’s a process, learning how to compete at various levels. And I think they took a giant step forward.”
One of the highlights of the night came after the main meet was over. In the new skills competition, sophomore Kent Caldwell performed his unique quadruple twist and took first place, hitting the skill on his very first attempt.
The Wolverines also got a good look at two of their future teammates, high school seniors Thomas Kelley and Chris Cameron.
Kelley placed sixth in the all-around competition, ahead of former Olympian Raj Bhavsar, while Cameron took 14th.
“They’re really good,” Caldwell said. “They’re both really clean gymnasts, and they’re going to be able to add a lot, especially in the events where we’ll be losing (strength) with Justin, Andrew and Aaron (Rakes) graduating.”
One weekend competing alone was enough for the gymnasts, who are all eager to rejoin their team and begin preparing for Saturday’s meet at Minnesota. Despite being the loudest group on the floor, the Michigan finalists keenly felt the absence of their equally noisy teammates.
“I’m anxious to get back in the gym to see how the guys at home have been training,” Catrambone said. “I miss those guys. We’ve been training for the whole season together, and we’re doing so well. Getting back in the gym, getting motivated by those guys and me motivating them is going to be a plus.”